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2008 Film adaptation of the stageplay and famous interviews between David Frost and Richard Nixon

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A Real Chill Factor

  • May 19, 2011
I went into Frost/Nixon expecting to see a political character drama which explored the more sensitive side of disgraced former President Richard Nixon. But Ron Howard's acclaimed movie isn't like that at all. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, mind you. It gives us a hero to root for and an evil Cobra Kai villain to throw our empty pop cans at. The light and dark warriors are established from the very beginning of the movie, and there is very little if anything done to remove Richard Nixon the man from Richard Nixon the politician. Richard Nixon will always be the perpetrator of the Watergate scandal to the American public. The narration, at the end of Frost/Nixon, even makes the note that Nixon's primary contribution to American politics was the wacky and overused "-gate" suffix. Let the record show that if I had my way, Nixon wouldn't even have so much as that to his name.

The interviews between David Frost and Richard Nixon are often portrayed as a brilliant political chess match between a mindgame expert and the feisty journalist who will stop at nothing to squeeze the ever-important confession out of him. But Ron Howard, a showbiz lifelong who was a popular child actor before becoming one of the best storytelling directors of his time, presents a very different idea. Howard leaves us with the impression that the Frost/Nixon interviews were conducted by two outstanding public performers. David Frost, in fact, is a public performer outright. He is a popular talk show host in Sydney, Australia who began his career as a comic. When he is the first one to approach the networks with the idea of interviewing the very unpopular ex-president in mind, the network heads are very skeptical. Why would they trust a big fish like Nixon to an upstart who isn't even a real journalist? And an Australian whose only American show was quickly cancelled, no less? When Frost's producer reassures his two Nixon researchers that Frost is a gifted performer, both researchers get more worried than ever before after hearing the word "performer."

Richard Nixon, unbeknownst to Frost's crew, agrees to the interviews because he is also very well aware of Frost's day job. At this point in his life, Nixon was highly out of favor but still had the public itch. He was dreaming of a return to public life on the East Coast after a political exile to California. But what he needs to do this is a favorable public opinion, and he chooses the lightweight banter of a Frost interview over the in-depth probing of a Mike Wallace interview because he figures he can get away with it. Sit down, drone for four 90-minute sessions, bat questions off to the side like poorly-thrown fastballs, come off well in the eyes of the public again and hello, District of Columbia! Frost wants the interview specifically because he knows his ratings would dwarf those of any Super Bowl. Nixon wants it because he smells a very easy chance at forgiveness. Yet despite all this, Nixon's handlers manage to squeeze a cool 600 grand out of Frost - which, thanks to the shortsightedness of the major network suits, Frost has to cough up himself.

It's interesting to watch the two teams come up with their strategies. It's almost like a political version of the great Robert Redford movie Quiz Show. Both parties agree to a series of four 90-minute sessions, and after the first three, Nixon clearly is on the verge of achieving his dream. Frost is shown as the overmatched talk show host that he is, but a couple of rungs down. Whenever one team starts to feel intimidated or overwhelmed, the tape is immediately stopped and the victim of whatever offense happened is consoled. Frost's researchers stop the tape more than once to tell Frost to ask this or that. Nixon's team stops the tape on the verge of Nixon's confession.

The first half hour or so of Frost/Nixon is there to give us the setup. Anyone with no knowledge of history will be given only a few brief news clips with which to get acquainted with Nixon's disgraceful resignation. Frost/Nixon isn't out to demonize Richard Nixon; a large number of other movies have done that nicely, including one by Oliver Stone with Anthony Hopkins playing Tricky Dick. Frost/Nixon begins and ends by giving us the Richard Nixon we already know and, to a large extent, hate. There are a couple of very short scenes in which Nixon is seen with his wife, and there's a pivotal scene late in the movie in which Nixon reveals more of himself by placing a late-night phone call to Frost while drunk. There's a bit more setup for David Frost; we learn, for instance, that he's a bit of a playboy and that he's a talk show host along the lines of David Letterman. We also learn that his show is syndicated but failed to find an audience in the United States, which is the one place he wants to succeed more than any other. Ratings and a second shot in America actually sum up his whole motivations for tackling Nixon.

The bulk of Frost/Nixon revolves around the interviews. That is to say, the interviews themselves. There is not a lot of the aftermath being shown in this movie. Setups to each successive interview involve just a handful of scenes and not drawn-out brainstorming sessions as often happen in movies like this. But this makes perfect sense; Frost/Nixon is based on a popular play, and even the actors are reprising their roles. I get the feeling that there was a little bit of bulk thrown into the shooting script for the movie because the locations are too varied and there are too many short scenes which are too close together to make a direct adaptation from stage to screen possible. During a play, the actors on the stage aren't able to run off the stage quickly for a whole other ten-line scene before going back on to say ten more lines and then heading off again for a totally different scene.

Watching the interview scenes between Frost and Nixon is intense. Both characters are really having at each other; both have their eyes on the big prize and they both want it bad. Frost is even coached about the way he should sit during the interview sessions. Despite his attacks, Nixon is able to keep fending him off repeatedly. Frost thrusts, Nixon dodges. Frost thrusts again, and Nixon parries. The Tricky one is able to get by the Attack Dog's questions using ultra-long answers which aren't really answers. And even before the camera turns on and the tape begins to roll, the mindgames keep coming from one to the other. At one point, Nixon asks Frost whether or not his shoes are Italian. At another point, Nixon actually asks Frost if he went and fornicated (and yes, "fornicated" is the actual word he uses in the scene) with anyone last night.

And I guess that concludes my review. There really isn't a whole lot to write about for Frost/Nixon. Frost/Nixon is an excellent play-based movie, which we don't see very often these days. The uplifting Apollo 13 was supposed to be Ron Howard's best movie, but I think he's just surpassed even that inspiring flick. Frost/Nixon was tagged for the Best Picture Oscar if you pay attention to them. Even if you don't (and I really don't) you won't regret revisiting the only US President who might rank below George W. Bush in the Presidential unpopularity contest.

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May 19, 2011
excellent breakdown and very detailed. I really enjoyed your review. I liked this one quite a bit myself and I have to admit I was very surpirsed how much I enjoyed this movie when I played it on my dvd player. Nice observations with the thrusts and dodges of the characters. Thanks!
More Frost/Nixon reviews
review by . April 24, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Clever entertainment, with one of those wonderful, political non-apologetic apologies for a climax
Entertainment, Frost/Nixon is; history, of course, it's not. (But then who expects history from the movies?)       David Frost, if he doesn't hate Michael Sheen's amusing parody of himself, should. Sheen's Frost is a young man in love with the excitement and high life of being a television celebrity, as eager and quick as a chipmunk and as shallow as a plate.       The portrayal of Richard Nixon, however, is misleading. For the purposes …
review by . December 16, 2008
A better title for "Frost/Nixon" would be to replace the slash with a "vs.," to emphasize how director Ron Howard's latest generates exciting tension through a battle of the wits.    Set in 1977, the film chronicles how British television personality David Frost who in 1977 had the rare opportunity to interview and confront former president Richard Nixon on his abuse of governmental power without a public apology.  Frost sought to push his fame to new heights, while Nixon hoped to …
review by . February 23, 2009
Frost/Nixon Poster
  I'm now finishing this review post-oscars and I do have to say that Frost/Nixon got screwed a little bit. I could be wrong, but I don't think it won one Oscar. Ron Howard did such a wonderful job with this film just for the fact that he took something from the stage and put it to screen so I don't think this film got all the recognition it deserved.    Despite the fact that I wasn't around during the Nixon Administration or when the events of this film took place, …
review by . May 19, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
As historical fiction, this film is wonderful. I'm a history buff and I love seeing these critical moments in history dramatized. However, audiences that normally would never watch a documentary about Watergate can enjoy this film. The Nixon/Frost interviews are not the obvious choice for a historical drama about Nixon (the Watergate scandal itself seems the more obvious choice, as in "All the President's Men"). Yet, this film makes the run-up to the interview and the interview itself as dramatic …
review by . May 15, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: Supporting cast      Cons: Very dull storyline      The Bottom Line: Even if you are a Nixon/Watergate buff, this isn't required watching.  If you are such a buff, maybe good for a rainy day.  Otherwise, find another bio-pic.      Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot. The worst plays are more intimate than great movies.  Sitting in the audience watching live actors treading …
review by . April 26, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
FROST/NIXON is one of the most successful screen adaptations of a play yet made. Perhaps that is due in part to the fact that the popular stage play by Peter Morgan was revised for the screen by the playwright, but it is also to the credit of director Ron Howard who managed to suffuse the 'play as movie' with such atmosphere and feeling of spontaneity that the rather long movie seems to whisk by more rapidly than history!    Everyone knows of the infamous David Frost interview …
review by . April 14, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
Adapted from the fairly successful stage play, FROST/NIXON is a fictionalized account of the interview process and sessions that took place between world media darling David Frost (Michael Sheen) and former President Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) in 1977. The film follows Frost as he seeks to get back into the big time (television in America) by gaining an exclusive set of interviews with Nixon to be broadcast on network television. Nixon has been living in relative seclusion since resigning from …
review by . April 30, 2009
This detailed recreation of David Frost's 1977 interviews with President Nixon is surprisingly engaging. The movie takes us back to a time when Presidents didn't pop up on every channel on a daily basis as they do now. Convincing Nixon to be interviewed following the Watergate scandal was quite a coup, even though Frost had a hard time selling it to networks and sponsors.     Michael Sheen (The Queen) portrays Frost as a confident, ambitious journalist and playboy. Frank Langella …
review by . April 11, 2009
What a mightily enjoyable film.     Frank Langella renders Richard Nixon as slower, older and heftier than he really was; somewhere between a punch drunk prize fighter and a waning silverbacked gorilla, snorting and puffing at the attentions of a glad-handing young dilettante. Michael Sheen plays that glad-handing dilettante, British talk show host David Frost in truth a little unevenly: at times caricaturing his bouffant mincing drawl like an effete Austin Powers, at times a …
review by . December 10, 2008
posted in Movie Hype
In March of 1977, British television personality David Frost interviewed former President of the United States Richard Nixon in a series of four ninety-minute installments. On the basis of the film that recreates these interviews, Ron Howard's "Frost/Nixon," I wish I had been around to see them when they originally aired. Partly, it has to do with the fact that they revealed a great deal about Nixon, and I'm not merely referring to historical facts; his on-camera mannerisms spoke volumes about him, …
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Nicholas Croston ()
Ranked #19
Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial.      Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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Sounds like a good match: a historical drama from the author ofThe Queen, but with an American subject in the generational wheelhouse of director Ron Howard. And so Peter Morgan's Tony-winning play morphs into a Hollywood movie under the wing of theApollo 13guy. Morgan's subject is a curious moment of post-Watergate shakeout: British TV host David Frost's long-form interviews with ex-President Richard Nixon, conducted in 1977. It was a big ratings success at the time, justifying the somewhat controversial decision to cut an enormous check for Nixon's services. The movie adds a mockumentary note to the otherwise straightforward style, having direct-to-camera addresses from various aides to Frost and Nixon (played by the likes of Oliver Platt, Sam Rockwell, and Kevin Bacon); these basically tell us things we already glean from the rest of the movie, adding unnecessary melodrama and upping the stakes. In this curious scheme, the success of Frost's career, which could bellyflop if he doesn't get something worthwhile out of the cagey, long-winded Nixon, is given somewhat more weight than the actual revelations of the interviews. Even with these questionable storytelling decisions, there's still the spectacle of two actors going at it hammer and tongs, and on that level the movie offers some heat. Michael Sheen, who played Tony Blair not only inThe Queenbut also in another Morgan-scripted project,The Deal, is adept at catching David Frost's ...
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Director: Ron Howard
Genre: Drama
MPAA Rating: R
Screen Writer: Peter Morgan
DVD Release Date: April 21, 2009
Runtime: 122 minutes
Studio: Universal Studios
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